So it’s shark week this week and a reminder of the reason why I got into underwater photography, a dream of mine whilst on the end of life pathway that a programme called “The Aquanauts” who were following whale sharks and tagging them for research purposes gave me a goal that if I was to escape from hospital against the odds, that I would make it my mission to learn about these incredible animals and their counterparts.
It still doesn’t seem that long ago since I snorkelled around the Blue Hole in Belize, too scared to dive and armed with just a small Sony Cybershot 3.1 megapixel camera with a red filter and a Sea and Sea wide angle lens. Fellow holiday makers were keen to remind me that I needed a “proper” camera to be able to take good photos and that I needed to be a diver. My thoughts were that if the large animals were all captured whilst swimming at the surface, then maybe it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t dive just then.
And so I followed for the first three years whale sharks to different destinations such as Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, Utila and Baja California in Mexico (the latter two places being with the Shark Research Institute and Alex Antoniou leading the trips) and upgraded to a d-SLR. I also took it with me to the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica to study the dolphin and whale populations there as well as manta rays in the Socorro Islands, Mexico.
What I loved about it was the speed of capturing subjects, wow, you could just put your finger on that button and just keep shooting and the battery would last what seemed like forever. Sharper images were easier to obtain and the memory cards, being larger, held so many more images. There was little danger, compared to my compact, of missing that golden memory shot through running out of power nor space – which all seemed to happen too frequently.
The downside I found was that it was bulky for a beginner. Trying to move through that water as fast as I could with a larger system was difficult, but then as my left-side is weak, then probably that is just me. I later had the opportunity whilst being asked to co-lead a workshop with Reef Photo and Nauticam in the Florida Keys to try out a Sony NEX 5 Mirrorless System, and the results were absolutely comparable to the benefits of a dSLR but with a much smaller and lighter system, both in terms of travelling as well as in the water. I’ll be looking through different cameras and housing options later this week to help you understand these more. What I love about mirrorless cameras is that wet lenses can be added onto the front of the system, whereas of course with dSLR systems, lenses have to be chosen before your dive. If you decide to concentrate on capturing the intricacies of nudibranchs and all things tiny and a whale shark decides to come and say hello, you’ll be lucky to capture more than one of it’s spots on it’s sensor!
So moving onto compact camera systems which I’ve been shooting with regularly since 2002, I’m still passionately crazy about them! They’re small, light for beginners and offer you the flexibility to choose your lenses whilst you are underwater, lessening the risk of missing a fab shot whilst you are underwater. The shooting options are much faster now, I still remember holding down the button to take a shot and having to wait a few seconds before it actually showed up on my screen! Cards are larger, systems are varied from camera’s own housings through to ones with leak sensors fitted for the higher end models such as Nauticam.
So there you go, a little insight into my world of experiencing all three different systems. I was lent an Olympus EPL-3 system which I loved for the easy of lower light wreck shots here in the UK but I have to say that even after all these years and the huge advancements in technology, that I’d never be able to be prized from my compact.
Have a lovely week everyone and don’t forget to share your stories, I’d love to hear them.